Writing for the Screen (EASM122)

StaffDr Sam North - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to give you the ability to create and write films and teleplays to a professional standard, as well as to analyse effectively a range of teleplays, screenplays and completed films.

You will need effective writing and communication skills in order to obtain work after you graduate. This module aims to give you an effective grounding in both writing fiction for the screen and in the interpersonal skills necessary to present their work to the relevant commissioning bodies.

The module will be taught through a once-weekly, 2-hour writing, reading/watching and discussion seminar. Student participation and peer commentary on individual scripts constitutes an integral part of teaching and learning - there will be work-shopping of screenwriting techniques, group discussion and critical feedback. Research methodologies will be introduced to allow you to pursue their aims independently. Seminars will also include the critiquing of a range of films and screenplays. Preparation for seminars will include completion of short writing assignments developed in the writing workshops, reading of critical and creative texts, and the viewing of selected films. In preparation for the first seminar, you should bring a story that you wish to write. The screenwriting tutor will be available for occasional one-to-one tutorial consultations by appointment. You will be expected to attend all visits and talks given by visiting writers and broadcast media professionals. These will be announced and advertised in due course. You will be expected to participate in class discussion and will be encouraged to hold independent small group meetings in preparation for the seminars. Seminar attendance is compulsory.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Appreciate the different levels at which a script can work
  • 2. Have comprehensive knowledge of critical and practical terminology
  • 3. Be aware of the range and variety of approaches to the practice of screenwriting
  • 4. Recognise the multi-faceted nature of writing, and its complex relationship to other disciplines and forms of knowledge
  • 5. Be able to understand, interrogate and apply a variety of theoretical positions and weigh the importance of alternative perspectives
  • 6. Analyse your own writing and re-write effectively

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 7. Demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature appreciation of formal techniques and imaginative expression in creative writing
  • 8. Analyse and critically examine, at an advanced level, diverse forms of film and writing
  • 9. Present sustained and persuasive written and oral arguments concerning your own creative writing and the work of other authors, both peers and published authors, and to use such ideas relating to your own work to develop their creative ideas
  • 10. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous understanding of a variety of theoretical positions in the appropriate critical and professional terminology
  • 11. Demonstrate an ability to independently originate creative ideas and to respond positively to appropriate criticism of your work
  • 12. Demonstrate a consistent ability to create imaginative written work in a variety of forms [appropriate to genres/styles covered by the module]
  • 13. Demonstrate sustainable tactics to deal with personal experience, observed reality, documentation and archival records of the experience of others
  • 14. Have acquired relevant research methodologies in order to achieve your aims independently

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 15. Through seminar work, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 16. Through writing essays and creative work, demonstrate advanced critical, research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, advanced skills of creative expression, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 17. Through research, seminar work and writing of creative pieces, demonstrate an awareness of the audience, the commercial realities of the market, and an understanding of the purpose of formal structures, layouts, and techniques

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction: The four big principles working together: The Map of Desire; Genre; Dramatic DNA; Rising Scale of Action
  • Suspense – Hitchcock Special Suspense: with reference to The Birds, Marnie, Rebecca
  • Dramatic irony, reverse dramatic irony and double dramatic irony: with reference to The Truman Show, The Coup (an episode of the American Office).
  • Dialogue and subtext: with reference to Pulp Fiction
  • Character: with reference to As Good As It Gets
  • Empathy: with reference to Leon
  • The verbal pitch: A five minute verbal pitch of the screenplay you wish to write
  • Right and wrong: Investigation and changing the moral map of your films. ‘A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the yearbook of a school for exceptional children…’ Ernest Hemingway in 'The Paris Review Interviews: Vol. 1' (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2007) P61.
  • Choice: The notion of CHOICE as a dramatic vehicle, with reference to Saving Private Ryan and Sophie’s Choice.
  • Logic
  • Rewriting special: Quality blindness, moving people in and out of doors, ‘exposition as ammunition’ (McKee). Problem-solving, formatting and finish

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Seminars
Guided Independent Study100Seminar preparation (independent)
Guided Independent Study178Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Screenplay7530 pages1, 6, 7-14Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up. Cohort feedback via seminars.
Analysis252000 words1-6, 15-17Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up. Cohort feedback via seminars.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Screenplay (30 pages)Screenplay (30 pages)1, 6, 7-14Referral/Deferral period
Analysis (2000 words)Analysis (2000 words)1-6, 15-17Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading:

These are the standard industry bibles which are required reading for anyone thinking of writing screenplays.

  • McKee, Robert, Story
  • Campbell, Joseph, Hero With A Thousand Faces

In addition, you will be reading screenplays in the raw, documents actually produced by the writers of the films described above, downloadable from http://www.screenplays-online.de/ or from http://sfy.ru/ - (published screenplays cost a lot and are usually printed in the wrong format, designed for a general reader).

Secondary Reading:

  • Oqen, Alistair. Story & Character - Interviews with British Screenwriters (Bloomsbury, 2004)
  • Costello, John. Writing A Screenplay (Pocket Essentials, 2002)
  • Moritz, Charlie. Scriptwriting for the Screen (Routledge, 2001)
  • Seger, Linda. Making a Good Script Great (Samuel French, 1994)
  • Selected materials from the Bill Douglas Centre
  • Proulx, McMurtry and Ossana, Brokeback Mountain, Story to Screenplay (Harper Perennial 2005)

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Key words search

screenwriting, dialogue, suspense